JFK tapes show he worried about re-election, Vietnam
President John F. Kennedy plays with his children in the Oval Office in 1962.
January 24th, 2012
10:42 AM ET

JFK tapes show he worried about re-election, Vietnam

Shortly before his death in 1963, President John F. Kennedy was worried about how he would come across to young voters at the 1964 Democratic Convention.

"What is it that we can [do to] make them decide that they want to vote for us, Democrats and Kennedy – the Democrats not strong in appeal obviously as it was 20 years ago. The younger people, party label – what is it that’s going to make them go for us. What is it we have to sell them? We hope we have to sell them prosperity but for the average guy, the prosperity is nil. He’s not unprosperous but he’s not very prosperous; he’s not going make out well off. And the people who really are well off, hate our guts," Kennedy says in a recording released Tuesday by his presidential library and museum in Boston.

The library on Tuesday released the final 45 hours of more than 248 hours of meeting conversations the president had recorded during his time in the White House. The latest tapes cover some the final discussions Kennedy had before his November 1963 trip to Dallas, where he was killed by an assassin's bullet on November 22.

Recordings of some of the last political discussions of President John F. Kennedy were released Tuesday by the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

Besides the message Kennedy planned to relate at the '64 convention, he was worried about how it would be presented, wondering if films that would be shown could be in color, according to the tape made on November 12, 1963.

“Should they be made in color?” he asks on the tape. “They’d come over the television in black and white. I don’t know if maybe they’d come over the NBC one in color. Probably a million watching it in color and it would have an effect. I don’t know how much more expensive it is. Be quite an effect on the convention. The color is so damn good. If you do it right.”

Recordings made on September 10, 1963, deal with what was then a civil war in Vietnam. Two advisers, one military and one diplomatic came back with divergent views on what was happening there.

“The Viet Cong war will be won (by the United States) if the current U.S. military and sociological programs are pursued,” Gen. Victor Krulak said.

But State Department adviser Joseph Mendenhall doesn't have the same optimism.

"The people I talked to in the government when I asked them about the war against the VC, they said that is secondary now – our first concern is, in effect, in a war with the regime here in Saigon. (pause). There are increasing reports in Saigon and in Hue as well that students are talking of moving over to the Viet Cong side,” Mendenhall said.

To which Kennedy replied: “You both went to the same country?”

Later in the meeting adviser Rufus Phillips tells Kennedy what many would say later when support for the war soured as U.S. casualties mounted.

"When someone says that this is a military war, and that this is a military judgment. I don’t believe you can say this about this war. This is essentially a political war…for men’s minds,” Phillips said.

In a November 8 meeting, Kennedy and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara discuss Adm. Geroge Whelan Anderson, who was chief of naval operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

McNamara tells Kennedy that Anderson came up in a discussion McNamara had with Adm. Hyman Rickover.

“I talked to Rickover in connected with this nuclear carrier and while we were discussing it, he said, ‘You know that Anderson was absolutely insubordinate during the Cuban crisis. He consciously acted contrary to the president's instructions. I just thought you'd be interested. Rickover told me 10 days ago."

"I wonder what he means?" Kennedy said.

"Rickover said enough to let me know that Anderson was objecting to the instructions that you and I were giving relating to the quarantine and the limiting of action in relation to stopping the Russian ships," McNamara replied.

"He wanted to sink a ship," Kennedy said.

"He wanted to sink a ship. That's right," McNamara replied.

The last of the recordings comes on November 20, two days before Kennedy was killed. In it, he makes plans for the week after his trip to Dallas.

"They were going to have a briefing book for me by Saturday. I think I ought to be back here til maybe 7:00, then I have to see Cabot Lodge on Sunday and then have to get in touch with him on Monday. So you ought to have something to take to Texas with me," Kennedy said on that final tape.

The library says Kennedy deliberately made the recordings - mostly from the Oval Office and the Cabinet room - but without any apparent pattern. Not all meetings were recorded, the library said.

The existence of the tapes has been known since 1973, and they were first opened to public research 10 years later, the library said.

"Although on the one hand releasing the final recordings is a bittersweet milestone, on the other, we hope that the public will appreciate having the opportunity to hear these important discussions first hand,” library archivist Maura Porter said in press release. “The presidential recordings are an historical treasure for those interested in truly feeling like a participant during Oval Office discussions from this time period. No other avenue can present the facts quite like listening to the players themselves.”

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Filed under: History • Politics
soundoff (84 Responses)
  1. BOMBO ©

    As the amazing Randi once realized, you can't win with people who believe in the paranormal, you'll never make them happy by pointing out that they are wrong. And I believe the same is true of conspiracy theorists. They believe what they believe because it is fun for them to believe it. If you argue against them, you are taking something "fun" away from them. You are replacing it with something rational and – well – boring.

    January 24, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • AmericanSam

      Yes. The rational often doesn't make for a good story, or it doesn't provide much meaning.

      January 24, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Philip

    The Kennedy and Bush family dynastys were founded on corruption. A bootlegging war profiteers kid's learn from dad. And dad financed their political carreers with dirty money. Dirty dirty politicians. Their images are admirable though.

    January 24, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    @ spike:
    Not really, in person. She was beautiful and brilliant.
    I think that you must be very young.
    Washington during Camelot was almost magical. You had to be there.
    I was there frequently to work then.
    It was an unforgettable era. I'm grateful that I lived through it.
    Of course, I was young then...but the Kennedy legend is eternal.

    January 24, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Philip

    @BOMBO. are you referring to the paranormal God that Bush and Obama worship? Or are you thinking like me, that all of those flying saucers people have seen are man-made saucers based on hundreds of nazi flying saucers captured after the war.

    January 24, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOMBO ©

      Are those my only choices?

      January 24, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Ys, those are your only choices, lol!

      January 24, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™


    January 24, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ma & pa

    @andy b at 12:37pm. "Atlanta Jewish Paper Gangster Adler". You touched on a worldwide problem of simplistic, short-sighted, selfish thinking. The situation in the world could be compared to a big pile of Jackstraws with the Peace straw being the most fragile and difficult to claim. Following the thinking of Adler's article risks smashing them all. Then none get to go home and live "happily ever after". Good reasoning spoken through strong diplomacy, supported by the power of free nations can avert the disaster rash acts would bring in this situation.

    January 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Alex Winter

    “You both went to the same country?”

    LOL. Nice one.

    January 24, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ma & pa

    Philip at 12:20pm touched on it. GREED. JFK was an honest man trying to help build a "great society" and the people's spirit was inspired by his vision. That made him, in those times, Bad For Crooked Big Business but very good for GOOD Big Business. He and his family genration were ahead of the times. We won't touch on "Old Joe Kennedy's" politics except that it placed his inspired children in a unique position to try to make the world better for the good of all mankind. alotta folks sez dats bad for business. As for a "JFK drinking problem", his spine was injured during the war in service to his country. White House physicians and pain meds kept him on his feet. Everybody knew that back then, who knew much. It saddens us that in two generations the promise and vision of then is too much out of sight, displaced by killers bullets. We can all still help one another to regain and rebuild to reality the dreams of good he had for us.

    January 24, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    ma & pa are correct.
    In the time of JFK, those of us caught up in the spirit of Camelot felt that we were doing something very good for society.
    The day JFK was assassinated, my friends and I were all in shock, constantly on the phone with each other.
    The aspiration that many of us shared in those years was more collective than it was greedy.

    January 24, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Philip

    I remember the day JFK was murdered. I lived in a very small mountain town, pop. 200. Everybody was mourning. Every single person. Me? I remember asking my mom what a president was. I don't recall her answer. I recall being upset that day, not for JFK though. They closed the only bar in town that day, and so I didn't get to stand on a milk crate and play on the wooden pinball machine that took nickels. The one right next to the oldest pool table in Colorado. It was like a ghost town. Even the people seemed ghosted.

    January 24, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. C.Forrest

    We miss him. It is better to dream of and work for better days for all then to disparge the past and discourage the future or each other.

    January 24, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JDMD243.0

    I can't wait until the last wistul babyboomer has died off so we don't have to continue idolizing JFK. If he looked more like Nixon than Brad Pitt none of these boomers would continue to wax nostalgic about a handsome but flawed president with a golden tongue who accomplished little while in office.

    January 24, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Convoluted

      What JFK meant so much more. We all know how back room politics work and what it sometimes takes to get the job done. No it isn't always pleasant. But John wanted to get rid of the secret societies and go to the gold standard The greed wasn't so in your face rampart, every now and then they put the "People" first . Many of the Kennedy's children went on to work for the" man in the street". They were taught to participate and contribute within society. Maybe we did put them in an Ivory Tower but I'd take a Kennedy over a treasonous bush any day!

      January 25, 2012 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. @JDMD243.0

    quit hating

    January 25, 2012 at 3:11 am | Report abuse |
    • JDMD243.0

      Are you disagreeing with anything I stated? JFK worship is just a liberal version of religion, a house of cards that continues to inspire misguided notions that were never true to begin with. I find it insulting that people believe that JFK cornered the market on being optimistic and inspiring people to do better. Every president has great speechwriters that craft flowery words together to sound inspiring. Camelot homers just drink his koolaid because he's nice to look at. I don't have a problem with that at face value, but its like watching a romantic comedy and confusing that tripe with reality. I like my macho flicks and I think Sarah Palin is a hottie, but at least I don't confuse lust with sound policy.

      January 25, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  14. Guest

    Ask not what your country can screw out of you
    Ask what you can screw out of your country

    January 25, 2012 at 4:57 am | Report abuse |
  15. old3putt

    No, that's what we have now.

    January 25, 2012 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
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